Cappadocia – fun in the fairy chimneys
After the fantastic climbing in Antalya we were sad to leave the coast, but Cappadocia was waiting to be explored. We had managed to squeeze in a few last minute climbs across the road from our bungalow in Olympos in the morning and then headed off about midday for the interior of Turkey. The drive along that first bit of coast between Olympos and Antalya is spectacular, with huge snowcapped mountains soaring above and fantastic rocky outcrops and sea cliffs. We passed another rockclimbing crag but didn’t stop in.
Past Antalya there were loads of roadside stalls selling strawberries. We stopped in at one and the strawbs looked fantastic so I asked the price but the scarf-clad woman was asking twice the price we got the strawberries for in the market earlier in the week. I offered a lower price, and she looked directly at me, and did this huge ttsssst while lifting her chin up defiantly – a Turkish mannerism that means no – or in this case, it clearly meant get lost! So off we went with no strawberries. Luckily a bit later we found another stall run by a lovely young woman who charged fair rates so we got some fantastic strawberries, honey, bananas and oranges to keep us going over the coming days.
The road wound up into the hills and we soon started seeing cars coming the other way with huge piles of snow on their roof and bonnet – it was going to get cold! Before long we were in a winter wonderland, with huge snowdrifts on the sides of the road and beautiful scenery. There were loads of local people having picnics, even in the snow! Rodders took us down the other side of the mountain range, again with spectacular mountains in the background. The sun set and on we travelled, trying in vain to find a lovely little roadside restaurant where we could get ourselves some Turkish treats for dinner. Eventually after much searching we pulled up at a restaurant attached to a gas station, and they rustled us up two shish kebaps washed down with loads of tea – an excellent meal and only TL12 (about £4).
By this time it had become very cold and foggy, so we headed to the Lhlara valley to find somewhere to free-camp, and ended up camping behind a restaurant at the bottom of the valley. In the morning we got up very early, it was freezing and there was frost on the tent, but it was a cracker day so we headed off up the Lhlara Valley for a bit of a look around. The valley extends about 16km and has a lovely river running through it, with awesome sand-coloured cliffs of tuff rising on each side. It is somewhat of an oasis in the vast expanse of flat dry steppe of central Turkey. The cliffs are honeycombed with houses dug out of the soft rock, and the main reason for visiting the valley is to see the rock-hewn churches, many of which have painted frescos. The first one we visited had an incredible fresco of St George. It was lovely just to wander along the valley next to the river and enjoy the scenery.
Once we got back to Rodders we drove up out of the valley back the same way we had come the night before and were astonished to find outstanding views of a huge volcano not far away! The scenery was beautiful as we wound our way down the road towards Goreme and it wasn’t long before we passed a fantastic rock formation, with pointy peaks riddled with caves. It turned out it was the Selime Monastery, and the entrance fee was included with the Lhlara Valley ticket. We past by and turned down this dirt road for a truly excellent breakfast of muesli, tasty strawberries and bananas, yogurt, honey and hazelnuts, while chatting to some school kids who wanted to practice their English. We thought we may as well walk back up and visit the Monastery as we already had the ticket so we shot up after breakfast for a quick look. The site was completely deserted and the friendly ticket collector pointed us in the right direction. We walked up the grippy rock and around this curving oval tunnel, and along windy paths sunken down into the soft rock by the thousands of people that had trod that route before us. There were staircases leading up inside low tunnels and rock formations with stairs and caves left and right just waiting to be explored.
At the top we entered a large cathedral hewn into the rock, it had two levels with a gallery up top. We climbed up the uneven steps to the upper level and shuffled around the gallery in the dark trying not to fall in any of the numerous holes before scrambling up one steep staircase which led up a small, angled tunnel that turned out to be one of the windows we could see from outside, high up on one of the rock turrets. There was so much exploring to be done it ended up being a much longer visit than either of us had planned. Some of the other carved churches had pillars and badly worn frescos, and there were kitchens, stables and living quarters dotted all around the place. The whole site was great fun and we really did feel like we were in a Star Wars movie exploring some long-lost ruins on a far-flung planet! It was one of the coolest places we’d been to so far.
Back in Rodders we decided we may-as-well visit one of the underground cities we had heard about. Apparently there are more than 36 underground cities in the area, many of them interconnected. We visited the Derinkuyu underground city which is one of the biggest ones with an impressive 8 levels. It was a rather incongruous entrance to the city, in a concrete building in the middle of a sprawling town. We paid TL20 to get in and headed down. It was pretty cool, but being a UNESCO world heritage site all the fun had been extracted from the site – there were lights and signs everywhere and fences to make sure we didn’t fall down the huge vertical hole that acts as a ventilation shaft, as well as concrete steps. Many of the other rock-hewn sites we had seen had been carved from the rock, but the underground city was much more practically constructed and had simply been dug rather than carved. There were stables, churches, wine making areas, and probably the coolest thing was the disc-shaped rolling stone doors to block the entrance to the tunnels. The Byzantines certainly went to great lengths to practice their religion and escape persecution from the Arabs! They would live underground for up to 6 months at a time – pretty impressive. The whole thing was interesting, but we felt it didn’t warrant the entrance fee and didn’t have nearly the atmosphere and fun factor of our morning’s escapades.
Gas prices in Turkey are horrifically expensive, definitely the most expensive place on our travels through Europe by a long shot, but it did seem to vary quite a bit from station to station, so we were always on the lookout for cheap gas. On the way out of Derinkuyu we saw a station advertising gas at TL2.96 – by far the cheapest we had seen with the normal rate being about TL3.60, so even though we didn’t really need any diesel, we couldn’t let such a bargain pass us by. We went in and asked the pump attendant to fill up. As the diesel was being pumped in, it seemed to be much more expensive than it should have been… I started querying the cost of gas, but by this time it was too late – the tank was full. The cheeky bugger had a vastly different price on the pump to that advertised – a difference of TL0.55/L!! We were absolutely furious and immediately told the owner we weren’t going to pay the exorbitant cost, we would pay the advertised cost and no more. He wouldn’t have a bar of it and insisted that we pay the full price, claiming that the diesel price had gone up due to inflation and we should expect such things in Turkey. We weren’t budging and said he could either have his diesel back or accept the advertised amount as we waved our Lira at him. He exploded into a rage, and said he was going to call the police which seemed like the best option as were unsure just how feisty this chap was going to get. So he got on the phone to the police and rather flamboyantly made a show of telling them that these “touristas” were refusing to pay for their gas, while Brett got up onto the roof to get a hose out of the roofbox so we could show him we were serious about taking the diesel back out. Shortly before the police arrived, I managed to come to a compromise of TL3.05/L and went to get the correct change. The police arrived which sparked the owner off again on his tirade, I paid him the money and he cursed me and said the eye of Allah was on me! The police were ambivalent and didn’t give the owner much sympathy. Moral of the story – always check the price at the pump!!
The sun was setting as we arrived in Goreme, and what a site it was! We spotted a small track cut into the side of the road as we came down the main road into Goreme and decided to head up to check out the view. It was the first real test for Rodders on this trip as the track was pretty steep and muddy but we made light work of it and were rewarded with a great view of the town after a bit of slipping and sliding on our way to the top.
The town is set amongst the most amazing rock formations, and many of the houses are built inside the natural rock formations. To the south of town there is a series of sculptured valleys which were lit up in vivid reds and oranges, with the volcano rising up behind. We set up camp at Camping Berlin (N38.64455 E34.83436), which didn’t have much going for it except it was close to town and had a good terrace for viewing the last moments of the sun set.
We awoke very early the following morning to head down and check out the hot air balloon launch sites and check up on whether we were going to part with the sizely sum of €150 pp to join the masses on a sunrise balloon trip. The launch sites are dotted around the edge of the town and are easily recognisable by the large well worn flat patches of dirt amongst the various rock formations in the area. There must have been at least 40 different balloons being launched that morning and the entire area was a hive of activity. It was quite fun walking through the hustle and bustle of tourists being herded in various directions and men running around trying to inflate the monstrous balloons. We found ourselves a good possie on a fairy chimney up above the chaos to watch the sunrise and eat a gourmet picnic breakfast surrounded by hot air balloons. It really was an incredible sight watching the balloons lift off the ground, into the first rays of the rising sun with all the fairy chimneys lit up in the lovely light. Perched up on our rock, it was almost as good as being in a balloon, we were surrounded by them! We were delighted to see a whole bunch more balloons appear above the rock formations from the next the valley over. It was definitely worth the effort to get up early and was a really magical morning.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the area on foot after getting Rodders as far along what was depicted as a dirt track on the local map we had picked up from the tourist information centre. We should have taken more note of the local chap on his scooter that had waved his finger at us when he saw us driving down the ‘track’ as Rodders came rather close to scraping the rocky banks on either side…Good fun though!
The entire area was a continuation of what we had discovered previously at Selime Monastery with loads of exploring to be done along any of the numerous valleys dotted around the countryside. Probably the best part of the day was exploring the Rose Valley, again taking every opportunity to climb and scramble into the houses cut into the rock formations. Many of the houses had intricate carved walls and rooms on different levels. In one house we scrambled up several levels and came out into an area with three rooms partitioned by rock walls. Covering one entire wall there were all these square carved pockets, possibly to store possessions? On another wall were geometric patterns and the ceiling was covered in red dots. It had the most incredible view over the valley and would be a great place to take your sleeping bag and spend the night! Just up the hill a bit was Haçl? Kilise, Church of the Cross, again carved into a fairy castle, as they call them in this part of the world. It had some impressive frescos, and a giant cross carved into the ceiling – it was our favourite church in the area.
It was quite entertaining to watch some of the tourists being taken on their ‘adventure’ quad bike tours which seem to have been adapted slightly from the quad biking we’ve done in the past as we watched the groups being led rather slowly by a young local lad on his beaten up old 50cc scooter.
We drove down to Pasibagi and explored the fairy chimneys down there. Again it was fun to get off the beaten path and we took a walk up around the back of the fairy chimneys where Brett achieved his goal of summiting a fairy chimney, much to the amusement of the hoards of tour groups below who were very impressed!!
That evening after much searching we finally found our way up a very steep track to a great spot right above the town to watch the sunset and enjoy our first official sundowner of the trip. We found an excellent freecamp spot slightly further up the road to spend the night and after dinner took the tripod down into the valley and spent an hour or so getting some night shots of the fairly chimneys which was fun.
By this stage we had decided that the balloon trip was off the cards but it was yet another early start to watch the hot air action, this time from amongst some rather phallic looking fairy chimneys and with our ukulele’s in hand. We spent a very pleasant morning strumming away in the sunshine in a pretty incredible setting - not a bad way to start our last day in Capadoccia before heading down to Aladaglar for some more climbing!
For more photos of Cappadocia, check out our photos page.
Tips and tricks
- We’ve heard that Kaya Camping is the best in town (N38 38.244 E34 51.235) – it’s a bit further away but has a pretty awesome setting, and it would be a nice walk into town from there amongst the cool fairy chimneys. Berlin Camping was ok, close to town and the camping was in amongst the fairy chimneys, but nothing to write home about. Both were TL25 for the two of us and the truck, but we managed to bargain Berlin Camping down to TL20.
- If you have your own vehicle you can easily freecamp near Goreme. There are some cool spots near the Rose Valley up on the hills, and also directly above Goreme township (drive through town up an unlikely road and you’ll eventually get to a great view point – head back a bit and there is a great little spot off to the right N38 38.260 E34 49.877)– great for sunset. Make sure you don’t camp in one of the hot air balloon launch sites or you will have a very early start! If you are backpacking it would also be very easy (and fun) to freecamp in one of the millions of rock-hewn houses in the fairy chimneys.
- For sunset there are loads of good spots around - drive or walk down the road directly behind Kaya’s camping – this is the road we got stuck on – it has a great view of the Valleys. There are good viewpoints on the other side of the valley too. Don’t pay to go to Sunset point – just before the tollbooth there is a road to the left that leads to one of the balloon take-off sites – the sunset view from here is just as good if not better!
- Selime Monastery was brilliant, but avoid weekends when loads of local tourists descend on the area. It looked like a great freecamp spot opposite the cathedral on a terrace above the river. (N37 47.188 E35 03.506)
- I went to the open air museum, which was pretty cool but tourist-ville central. The frescos are really incredible, but there were so many tourists you could only spend 5 minutes in each church, being pushed and shoved around by the tour groups, and I thought the frescos in St George’s Church and the ones in the Lhlara were enough to satisfy my fresco appetite. I paid the extra to see the dark church which was pretty cool. If you’re on a tight budget, have seen the other frescos in the other churches, and aren’t that interested in the religious side of it, then probably give it a miss. There are sooo many tourists there when the other sites were pretty much empty.
- Get up early to watch the hot air balloons take off – it’s definitely worth it!